Protection of National Energy Resources (Coal)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:42 pm on 19th February 1985.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Stewart Mr Andrew Stewart , Sherwood 3:42 pm, 19th February 1985

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I oppose the introduction of this Bill because, if I did not do so, it would be a dereliction of my duty to the people I represent. The Bill is a recipe for disaster for those who work in the coal industry and for the country generally. As a nation, providence has given us vast exploitable reserves of coal for 250 years at current extraction rates and men who have faced danger daily to dig that coal for others. We have not been given a union leader of vision and foresight to lead those men to prosperity by taking every available market opportunity. Only yesterday the greatly respected Lord Tonypandy said the same.

The Bill will finally convince those companies which were considering converting their oil and gas boilers to coal to do so knowing that for ever and a day the price of that coal would be charged at the level of inefficient production and market loss. Eighteen months ago, I and six hon. Friends met the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board and pleaded with him to convert oil-fired power stations to coal. The CEGB does not keep its lights burning with promises; it requires a guarantee that coal will be delivered without fail. Scargill's actions, and this Bill, would finally kill any chance to convert those oil-fired power stations to coal. That would be another lost market. We have examples of potential markets requiring 5 million tonnes of coal and providing jobs for 10,000 miners. Markets, not Socialist dogma, keep pits open.

This Bill has a Sheffield Marxist hallmark stamped all over it. It demands, for the first time in the history of coal, that uneconomic pits must remain open until the last ounce of coal is extracted. It would give credence to the nuclear power lobby's argument that the coal industry is going into the sunset. This lobby has predicted that the upward graph of energy produced from nuclear power will cross the downward graph of that produced from coal-fired power stations 20 years sooner than would otherwise have been the case.

Socialist France ditched its coal industry in favour of nuclear power and reduced the number of its miners to 25,000 and now relies on nuclear power for 70 per cent. of its requirements. Has the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) heard that France produces electricity at 30 per cent. below the cost of ours? Let him ask the pensioners suffering from the cold weather, or the business men closing their factories because of energy costs being unproductive, about it. I shall not stand idly by and watch my constituents' jobs being given to the nuclear industry on a plate.

Betrayal by others will never be forgotten or forgiven. The coal industry cannot fight back, let alone survive, while handcuffed to Scargill's demands. Why did he not have a ballot? The hon. Member for Rother Valley wants a compulsory ballot for everybody—that is what he said last week.

Given freedom to manage the industry with continued investment in viable pits, we can beat the opposition. The hon. Member for Rother Valley asked for our support to keep the loss-making pits in production at taxpayers' expense, because, he says, it would be cheaper than reopening mines at a later date. Is he so removed from the industry that he has not heard of underground gasification, which will soon remove those last deposits without men going underground?

If the Bill is passed into law, it will be known as the Scargill Act—the Scargill Act of Lunacy—which would mean the working of every pit to exhaustion, whatever the cost. This Scargill Act, which has already been rejected by men such as Jimmy Reid, Lord Wilson and Lord Chapple, would be the death penalty for the coal industry. No one who cares about this great industry could contemplate such an act of folly. I ask right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to reject the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):